Categories: TutorialsWeb Design

The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Website (2020)

Before you jump straight into building a website, it is extremely important that you think about exactly what you want out of it and also how much time and money you are willing to invest into it. The fact is the cost of a website can range vastly depending on your requirements. So if you want all the features in the world but don’t have any money to spend, then maybe you should consider less features initially and then add more once the needed budget comes in. Planning a website with this in mind can also save a lot of headaches and money down the line.

In this guide we are going to go over all the website fundamentals you need to make the right decisions.

Contents

Choosing a platform

Every website needs a place to live. People throw around this word ‘cloud’ a lot thinking it’s this magical place where technology resides up in the sky. The reality is this ‘cloud’ is just a group of computers (called servers) somewhere which can be accessed over the internet.

Guess what, it costs actual money to run these. The biggest surprise I have found over the years is how little people realise this. Nothing is actually free in this world unfortunately. There are equipment costs, building costs, utilities and so on that need to be covered in the ‘cloud’, just like any other business.

I know what you are going to say, “but I’ve seen this free thing that I can use”. Many ‘free’ services actually use advertising (both good and nefarious) to pay for this, so always be wary what you are actually signing up for. Most people building a website for a business will not do well if their customers are constantly being bombarded by adverts or having their personal information stolen. This is why I and all professionals worth talking to would never recommend a free service, the effect on your brand would be a cost you could never recover from.

So the next question is then how much does it cost to run a website?

Well there’s at least two things you will need:

  1. A server. This will host (run / power) your website. The cost of this will be answered in the next section.
  2. A domain name. This will be the address of the server, so people can actually find it online (for example the domain name of this website is cobaltcomputing.co.uk).

It is easier to use the same company for both of these services as they can usually set it up in a few clicks, but most domain name providers will allow you to point your name to a server from another provider.

Now before we choose what server we need it would be wise to consider what software we are going to use to create the website. This is because you may find that a lot of server hosting plans include particular software already, and probably won’t allow you to change it.

Website Builders

Without a doubt website builders are the easiest way to create a website. No coding skills are required and usually they come with a whole host of templates to get you started, meaning you don’t always need many design skills either. Also many website builders also include the cost of hosting, setup fees and security meaning there is little to worry about.

This is a double edged sword however as you may not be able to get your website to do exactly what you want it to do, or look exactly how you want it to look. So if you require more advanced features this type of platform will not be for you. However some popular features are now included in some website builders.

Another downside is that many SEO tools cannot be set up on website builders either. See SEO section below.

Finally the actual cost of using a website builder can be higher than the running costs of using a good CMS on a cheaper hosting plan. (Or possibly will not even work at all if you have too many visitors on your website.) This is why many people choose a website designer to build a website, even though there is a larger upfront cost, it can actually save you money (or more importantly, generate you more money) in the long run.

Pros:

  • Easiest for beginners
  • Quickest to set up
  • No upfront costs
  • Monthly fees usually include hosting costs

Cons:

  • Limited Features
  • Lack of SEO tools
  • Larger ongoing cost for smaller websites
  • Not suited for bigger websites

Content Management Systems (CMS)

A content management system is software which allows you to control the content of your website or program. There are many available such as Drupal, Joomla, Magento, or the most popular, WordPress.

WordPress is my personal favourite choice, to see why read this post.

The advantage of content management systems is their diversity. You can find one that will perfectly fit your needs and even your budget, as many are free to use. Also many of them allow for advanced customisations allowing them to be exceptionally adaptable. If you’re really clever you can even create a custom coded website and use the CMS to make it easier for you to manage, or for other people to manage. The only real downside is that there is a higher learning curve than using a website builder. Also if you are not sure what you are doing you can end up slowing down your website performance.

Pros:

  • Adaptable
  • Cheapest (Depending on which CMS and hosting you use)
  • Suitable for large and small websites
  • Coding knowledge not a requirement (but does help)
  • Lots of tools and support available

Cons:

  • Higher learning curve than website builder
  • Slower performance than bespoke development

Bespoke Development

If you’ve already tried coding then you know this is the hardest option, and for most people not the right option. However if you are a very large business, or require some very intense features then this might be the choice for you. Also, if you are trying to start a career in website design then this would be something I would suggest you try, as it can really give you knowledge that ultimately you will need at some point in your career.

There are many different ways and different languages you can use to create a website or progressive web app. With it’s own unique advantages and disadvantages. In general however there will be a front end language (such as HTML) and back end language (such as PHP). In basic terms the front end is what people actually see and the back end is what goes on in the background to make stuff happen.

The advantage of this method, obviously is that it is going to be perfectly suited for your website and perform exceptionally too. The disadvantage is that it is going to be expensive, not just initially, but you will probably need a developer on hand to make any needed changes in the future. And if you aren’t planning on making changes in the future then why on earth are you spending all this money for something that will go out of date the moment something changes?

As I mentioned a little before combining this with a CMS can be quite effective as it can make it easier to manage, if a little bit more complex to set up.

Pros:

  • Fastest performance
  • Can include all the features you need
  • Best for very large businesses or complex features

Cons:

  • Very expensive
  • Higher ongoing costs
  • Longest to set up

Hosting

So we’ve been through all the different methods to create a website. Now it’s time to put it online. As mentioned before website builders usually have their own hosting included so you can skip this section if that’s what you decided to go with.

There are three main different types of hosting available. Managed Hosting, Shared Hosting and VPS / Dedicated Hosting.

Managed Hosting

If you decided to go with WordPress then this is probably the best option. Not only is it the easiest but is also generally faster than your typical shared hosting plan.

Managed means that all the technical stuff is done by the hosting company, including stuff like backups, caching and security monitoring. That means you only need to learn how to use WordPress (or hire a designer).

The reason it is faster than shared hosting is because it is installed straight onto the server rather than on a generic web control panel. This means that there is less to load and also less to conflict with. Also most managed WordPress hosting automatically updates which will save time and help keep your site secure. The only downside is that this method only works on WordPress and not for any other CMS or bespoke website.

Pros:

  • Easiest to use
  • Quickest to set up
  • Faster than shared hosting
  • Cheaper than VPS hosting
  • Most stable solution
  • Tons of features

Cons:

  • Can only be used for WordPress
  • Not as fast as VPS / Dedicated hosting

Shared Hosting

The cheapest option. You have an account set up on a server and have a limited set of resources allocated. However the server is already set up, usually with a control panel such as CPanel or Plesk, which means less work for you. But you will still need to install your CMS or bespoke website onto the server and you may not have all the features you want set up right away, such as caching etc. Also you won’t have root access to the server so if you need to install any server-side tools this will not be possible, although won’t matter for most people.

Before managed hosting this was the most popular option, but since the popularity of WordPress and website builders have now increased, this option has lost its grip. Now it is only really used for people with a very limited budget or for smaller websites which need something other than WordPress to run.

Pros:

  • Cheapest option
  • Can install many types of websites (including WordPress)
  • Not as difficult to set up as VPS / Dedicated Hosting

Cons:

  • More set up required
  • More technical knowledge required than managed hosting
  • Slowest option

VPS, Dedicated & Cloud Hosting

More power! This is the reason to go with these types of hosting. Generally speaking, these require the most set up although some companies offer specialised hosting plans to make it much easier. Most of these hosting plans give you root access to the server, so are the only option if that is a requirement.

Virtual Private Servers (VPS) are usually the cheapest of the three. As the name suggests, they are a virtual server created on a physical server. This means it has it’s own operating system etc. VPS are similar to shared hosting in a way as resources are still shared across the physical servers. But they will normally allocate far more resources to your website than shared hosting would. The resources of this will usually still have a predefined max limit, but the price remains consistent.

Dedicated Hosting is the creme de la creme, your very own server! Perfect for larger businesses that need a fixed and secure resource. You are only limited by the server itself. This as you can imagine has it’s own advantages and disadvantages. The complexity and high upfront cost is the main downside of this option, but the amount of control you have and the insane speed being the upside.

Cloud Hosting. You’ve probably heard of this one as it has been gaining a lot of popularity recently. But what is it? Well similar to VPS hosting you have a virtual software environment which will run your website. The difference is the quick scalability of resources. Unlike the other two options the price and allocated resources are variable. This may sound scary at first but can actually save you a lot of money. Say for example that you have a large business that only operates in one country. You may think that having a dedicated server is the best option, but do you need all those resources, all the time? At certain times of day you probably don’t get that much traffic, such as when people are sleeping. Also what if your website goes viral? Does your current server have the ability to handle that traffic? This is where cloud hosting comes in. You can pay for a minimum amount of resources, saving you money when you don’t need it. Then when you get the surges in traffic the cloud hosting will allocate more resources automatically, giving you a perfect balance.

Pros:

  • Fastest by a country mile
  • Absolute control

Cons:

  • Most expensive options

Design

Now you have everything you need to get started you can focus on how to design your site.

Design Principles

There are many aspects to having a great looking website. Here are a few principles to keep in mind when designing your site:

Less is more

Don’t overcrowd your website with too much information crammed into a small space, spread things out, people would much rather look at small bits of information at a time rather than being overwhelmed. Also don’t put too many fancy animations, pictures, fonts etc all together at once, generally one or two to make the main points of your website stand out is best. Never underestimate the power of blank space.

Content is king

Content on your website is just as important as the layout, if not more so. If you have engaging, easy to read content people are much more likely to stay on your website, rather than thinking ‘oh that looks nice’ then moving on. Get people to stick around. When thinking about the content try to focus the writing style to your customer’s perspective. If in doubt speak naturally and don’t try and be something you’re not, it probably won’t come across the way you hope.

Two colours are probably enough

Don’t go crazy with the colour scheme! If your brand does have a lot of colour in it that’s still fine, just spread it out, have a pop of colour now and then or you’ll end up looking like a mixture of unicorn vomit. No one wants that. When selecting your colour scheme, make sure the text is VERY easy to read. You might think it looks good but if people have to take even a millisecond to decipher it they will sooner use that time to leave your site than stay.

Ask for a second opinion

It’s just always a good idea to get feedback on a design if possible. At the very least check it over yourself once it is all finished, and try and do so with a fresh perspective in mind. For everything just think, do I need that? Is it clear? Does it have everything I need?

Branding

It is paramount that your website stays on brand. This instantly builds trust as people are sure that they are visiting the right place as soon as they land on your site. Not only that but they are more likely to remember your brand the more they see it and this will undoubtedly bring in more customers. How do we make sure it is on brand?

Logo

It goes without saying really but make sure you use the same logo for your website. If it doesn’t quite work for certain things such as the browser tab icon then consider stripping down the logo so it still looks on brand, but also looks good. (For example many big brands use the first letter of their name or a simple design that fits well in their logos and follows the same style)

Colour scheme

Try and pick a colour scheme and stick to it across the board. Save the hexadecimal colour code on a notepad to make your life much easier and make sure that the colour always matches on everything. Consistency will pay off in the long run.

Typography

Just as with colour, keeping the text a similar style will build the same relationship and brand awareness. Again, don’t over do it. Just use fancy styles for headings or important points. Always keep the main body of text easy to read.

Images

You’ve probably guessed it, keep it consistent! If you have the same designer or photographer to provide this then that would be a great asset. But if you require stock pictures try to pick ones that fit best, not just look best.

Website Layout and Flow

Every website should have a goal. There should be some action that you want people to take from visiting your website, such as contacting you or buying your product. Make it extremely clear for how people can do this right from the outset. Your initial goal may be to direct people for more information about a particular product, then once you have successfully built their desire for that product make it easy for them to get it!

Call to action

This is a common feature of most websites, but it’s amazing how many people forget to put a CTA on their homepage! This may be for many reasons, such as many products to choose from. My advice to you would be to pick something popular that you offer and focus on getting people to find out more about it straight away. If they are looking for something else they will find it, try and catch people’s attention right away and make them stay on your website. Always give people a clear action to take so they know exactly what to do.

Clear menus

Try and keep your website menu concise. Use sub menus profusely. Don’t overwhelm people with lots of options. Try and group similar topics or products together in a sub menu. (or a sub sub menu) This will help visitors find what they are looking for. Also make sure it makes sense and that you have links to all main pages from somewhere on the menu.

Landing pages

These are a very prominent feature on websites. Landing pages are used to give visitors a reason to buy from you. Any product worth selling should have its own page dedicated to this. Also when advertising that particular product or service, this is the page you want to direct people to, not the home page of your website. If you get people to click on your ad you want them to immediately have everything they need to carry out a purchase. You don’t want to link straight to the checkout page either as this will almost always put people off, which is why landing pages are so important.

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

You want to people to see your website right? SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is a term used constantly on the internet. Basically it means all the ways you can help search engines (e.g Google) find your website and put them further at the top. There are three main areas which will have an impact on this. Technical SEO, Content & Keywords and Backlinks. Since July Google has started indexing using the mobile version of websites, so this version of your website is what you should be concentrating these efforts on.

Let’s discuss these areas in greater detail.

Technical SEO

This includes things such as page speed, sitemaps and meta tags.

Page Speed

This is how fast each page on your website loads, simple right? This is extremely important as you will get penalised for a slow website. Some things to keep in mind to speed up your website:

  • Keep things simple. Good from a design and speed perspective so win win.
  • Minify and combine code. This means getting rid of blank space in code and putting it all into one file rather than multiple. This can usually be done by a tool or software.
  • Optimise images. Resize images to fit and use optimisation tools to get it as quick as possible.
  • Use new image formats. Try and convert images into newer formats such as WebP. You will need to have the old format on your web server too for visitors with older browsers and redirect them to this. There are tools available to assist with this.
  • Lazy loading. Rather that loading all the pictures on a page at once use a lazy loading tool to make them load when people will actually view them.
  • Caching. This can be quite complex but again, there are tools which can help with this. Caching is basically creating a static copy of your web page that can be loaded quicker.
  • Reduce render – blocking code. This means running less important code last (or removing unused code), this will allow the main content to load first so people can look around while the rest loads. (This can involve a lot of trial and error)
  • Use a Content Delivery Network. CDN’s are other servers which can deliver some of the content of your website such as images and spread the load. This is great if you have a lot of visitors on your site.

Sitemap

This is a map of your website that can be submitted to search engines for them to navigate your website. Many tools can create this automatically for you. Just make sure you link your website to Google Search Console and Bing Websmaster Tools to submit this.

Meta Tags

These are very important. Search engines see things differently to us, they don’t see the fluffy stuff like pictures, they just see the code. Meta data is code specifically designed for search engines to see, so you want to make sure it is included on your website. Each page of your website should have a meta title, as well as meta descriptions. (Make sure you use the page keywords in this, more on that later) Also on the page itself it is good to have the correct tags for headings (h1, h2, h3) to categorise the content on your website accordingly. Finally it is good to add an alt tag to your images so that search engines know what they are all about.

Content and Keywords

Even though search engines look at the meta tags, that doesn’t mean they ignore everything else. Content is extremely important when it comes to being found.

Think for a minute about how search engines work. Someone types a word or phrase into the search bar, then the search engine brings up what they think is the most relevant (and trusted) data.

So then we want to be at the top when someone searches for something relevant to us. This is where the term ‘Keyword’ comes in. This should be the word or phrase that people are searching for to find us. This term should then be used on our website. But it’s not as simple as just copying that term over and over on a page to get found. Search engines are clever and will penalise you for this, they’ve been trained to look out for spam content.

So what we need to do is work that term in naturally to our content and use lots of similar variations of the same words (because they are clever enough to understand that for example ‘quick’ and ‘fast’ have a similar meaning). Don’t get too bogged down on this though, write your content naturally and it should come out fine. Just make sure your keyword is included in your page title etc. There are plenty of tools available to help keep a good balance with this.

It’s also important to keep in mind that you can focus different pages on your website on different keywords. (For example if I sold pet food I would have one page that focused on ‘cat food’ and another page focus on ‘dog food’)

Backlinks are links (ie this is a link) from other websites to your website. Why is this so important? Well this builds trust for search engines. That’s why quality links are far more important than quantity. If you get linked to from a popular website then people know you are an authority on a subject and search engines will pick you over other competitors.

There are many facets to this such as the relevance of anchor text. For example a link that says: visit website, will be less relevant than: check out this great website design company. Obviously there is a clear winner here as search engines will know exactly what the link leads to (a great website design company).

Also there is something called a ‘nofollow’ link. Although not completely useless, this tag is designed for search engines to avoid following a certain link. So if you get a nofollow link from someone it may be worth trying to get that changed. However keep in mind that it would seem very suspicious to have no nofollow backlinks at all so be careful!

So how do we get good quality backlinks? Well, creating great content that people can link too is key, such as a blog or infographic, the more that people want to share it the better.

Finally DO NOT BUY BACKLINKS. I can’t stress this enough, be very careful if you choose to do this. If you get found out then you will get penalised and waste your money. Obviously advertising is fine but don’t buy backlinks themselves. Instead, reach out to reputable websites and offer great content that can link back to you.

Security

Now your website is up and running you will want to make sure that it doesn’t go offline, lose all your hard work or even worse, lose customers personal data!

Backups

Essential for every website. Imagine this all too common scenario: You have a great website, everything is going well. You’ve noticed there’s been a new update for one of your website’s plugins, you download it, starts installing, still installing 20 minutes later, fails! You try and load your website and nothing happens, just a blank screen! What do you do?? Well if you made a recent backup it would take literally two clicks to get back up and running, panic over. If not be prepared for a big headache.

It’s one of those things that you think you’ll never need until it happens.

SSL

Secure Socket Layer (SSL). This is a must have. See that padlock in the address bar? That means that a website is secured with a SSL certificate. What does it actually do though? It encrypts the connection between the website visitor and the website itself. That means that nothing can intercept the connection. The obvious benefit is that people visiting your site will feel safer looking on it and more likely to stay. But it can also have an effect on your SEO as search engines will penalise your website if you don’t have one! Also you will get rid of all those ‘not secure’ warnings when people try and visit your site, so benefits all round.

Also if you own an e-commerce website with an integrated payment gateway you are required to have a Premium SSL Certificate with Extended Validation (EV) to take payments. However many payment gateways will give you the option to redirect purchases seemlessly through their website, meaning this is not alway necessary.

Virus Protection

We all know viruses can infect any computer, the same is true for web servers. You’ll definitely want to get rid of any infection straight away before it does any damage, that means you’ll also have to have the ability to spot it in the first place! Install antivirus, do it now!

Firewall

As opposed to simply scanning for malware that may have already infected your site, a Web Application Firewall (WAF) provides around-the-clock, proactive protection to block malware from ever reaching your website in the first place. Prevention is better than cure I always say!

Best Practices

There are also several things you can do to keep your site protected. Here’s a few to think about:

  • Don’t use the same password for everything (Especially your web admin account!) And use a strong password which contains at least: 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, 1 number, 1 symbol and is longer than ten characters. Also don’t use something obvious like Password@1, that would be any hackers first guess.
  • Keep tight control on who has access to your web admin. Many hosts and CMS offer the ability to share particular roles or give limited access to users. Only give people what they need and take it off them when they’re done!
  • Update CMS, themes, plugins, add ons and everything else constantly. Hackers are always developing new ways to cause trouble so stay ahead of the game by keeping everything up to date.
  • Limit login attempts. Generally you can use a WAF or install software on your server to prevent people logging in many times in one go. This will prevent brute force attacks where hackers use software to guess different password combinations until they are successful.
  • Use ReCaptcha on forms and comments. This isn’t strictly necessary but if you want to prevent annoying submissions through your website constantly this would be a great idea.
  • Finally if you do use a CMS like WordPress, check what themes and plugins you are installing. Only install ones that look trustworthy as not all developers have security in mind when creating these.

Privacy Laws

Onto our last section. First of all I would like to make it clear that I do not have a legal background and you should always seek the help of a qualified legal professional. However these are important things that all website owners need to be aware of.

More and more countries are making privacy related laws to keep personal information safe. Here in the UK we have GDPR. Now you might live in a country that doesn’t have any of these laws…yet. But that doesn’t mean they don’t apply to you. If you have visitors from another country it is YOUR responsibility to keep them safe. The laws protect the people, not restrict the businesses. So if you are found in breech of these laws you may still have legal action taken against you even if you do not live in that country.

With that in mind you need to make sure that you have certain policies relevant for your website. This needs to include how you use and handle personal data, as well as what cookies your website uses (a cookie is a bit of code stored outside of the web browser) and anything else related to your website visitors that they need to be informed of.

Another requirement if your website uses cookies is a banner or some sort of pop up to inform visitors about the use of cookies. If you have cookies that relate to the gathering of personal data you must also have the option for people to disable these.

If you gather data by any means, including your website, then you can only use that data for its intended purpose. Visitors will have to give their explicit consent to be contacted regarding anything else. Also generally speaking you must delete any data that is no longer necessary, although timeframes on this can vary by industry and other factors.

Finally you must take reasonable steps to secure personal data in accordance with privacy laws, as well as ensure it is accurate and up to date. Also people have a right to request any personal information you have on them and ask for this to be deleted.

We’ve covered a few areas but it is definitely worth visiting the GDPR website (or relevant data protection governing body in your country) and seeking legal advice for assistance with these matters.

Conclusion

Websites are a lot of work, but they are worth all the effort. They can take your brand to the next level, building trust and credibility. After all, how will people buy your great product if they don’t know anything about it? A website is your opportunity to make your mark, create your own little digital world and stand out as truly unique.

If you follow all the areas outlined here then who knows, maybe you could be the next big thing.

Simon Preece

Owner and Founder of Cobalt Computing. Simon has worked in the IT sector for over a decade and loves helping businesses reach their potential by getting the best out of new technology. He has a passion for the latest digital trends and is always striving to deliver 100%.

Recent Posts

Google My Business SEO

Google My Business SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is the art of optimising your Google My…

2 months ago

Why Mobile First Website Design should be a Priority

A few months ago Google announced that they will be switching over to mobile first…

3 months ago

Info-Graphic: Website Design

Statistics taken from https://blog.sagipl.com/web-design-statistics/ Ready to create your website? Contact us today for a free…

7 months ago

WordPress. What is it? Why does it matter?

You don't have to look far to realise that WordPress is one of the most…

7 months ago